Reading on an anonymous scale

BY BEN EVANS | DECEMBER 10, 2009 7:30 AM

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Musicians, poets, and painters might dwell in different artistic realms, but tonight they will share one stage.

“Anonymous Readings” will begin at 9 p.m. at Quinton’s, 215 E. Washington St. Admission for the event is free.

Travis Oler, a poet and winner of the Nation Merit Award who heads the event, said the idea for the readings was conceived four years ago when he was running the Iowa City poetry-slam team. He and friend Josh Nichols wanted to create something original that emphasized more than just the competition of a poetry slam.

“Our intentions were to bring more of the literary poetic aspect of poetry to the stage,” Oler said. “It seemed to be a little bit lost with slam poetry and spoken word, where it is not always that poetic, but is more didactic, more storytelling.”

And so marked the birth of “Anonymous Readings,” a sort of open-mike night for literary and cultural enthusiasts.

“We wanted to incorporate a fair amount of music, such as jazz, with the literary side of readings,” Oler said. “The participants give a real interesting and organic blend of artists.”

Anyone from any creative background may participate in the readings, from trumpet players to poets to beat boxers. The readings introduce artists of varying talents and specialties to other artists to create a unique experience for both the audience and the performer, Oler said.

“It is a free-for-all for the most part of anybody who is willing to be a part of it,” the poet said. “The idea of it is supposed to be very organic and spontaneous, putting both musicians and poets together.”

And Quinton’s provides a perfect environment for that kind of spontaneity, Oler said. At the event, he expects a lot of audience participation, not only in listening and reacting to the artists but also in engaging on a deeper, more emotional level, in which the venue plays a significant role.

“ ‘Anonymous Readings’ is very eclectic — there are a lot of ups and downs and a lot of breaks,” he said. “It is just kind of all over the place, and you just need a certain place that can hold that.”

Aaron Much, a manager at Quinton’s, said that the venue was looking for more of an open, unstructured act to go in place of its usual Thursday night music routine and “Anonymous Readings” was a perfect substitute.

“The readings match the aesthetic of Quinton’s, but they also get more people in here who aren’t normally here to enjoy it,” he said. “It draws a good crowd — it’s a laid-back crowd, a hip crowd, in which there are lots of expressional artists.”

Much also supports the open mindedness that the readings promote, noting the retro, speakeasy feel that “Anonymous Readings” exudes. The readings reflect the growing diversity of the town, he said.

“A poet could share time and audience with someone who is really hip-hop driven alongside someone who is completely abstract-driven,” he said. “It is neat to hear all the different viewpoints of the artists — things work together that you don’t expect or you might not see otherwise.”

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